How Do You Decide on Your Author Brand? – Part One

by Jami Gold on January 4, 2011

in Writing Stuff

Venetian Mask

I’m being interviewed over at Rachel Firasek’s blog today.  Me!  I’m marking this day on the calendar for sure.  However, before sending you over there, I wanted to share with you some thoughts about this “branding” thing authors have to keep in mind now.

Yesterday, Roni Loren (my friend from RWA and Twitter) posted an interesting article at Sierra Godfrey’s blog (another Twitter friend—No, I don’t live on Twitter, why do you ask?) about creating an author brand.   She said:

[T]the only way to create an effective brand [is] to be genuinely yourself. People want to get to know YOU, the person.

And that’s absolutely true.  However, we’re all made of multiple facets—spouse/ parent/sibling/child/boss/employee/friend/customer.  Like the characters in books, we wear masks, showing only parts of our personality.  We act differently at work than at home, or whether we’re with our close friends or distant relatives.  Yet those masks are all genuinely us.

We’re constantly choosing which aspects of ourselves to reveal with everything we do.  Those choices shape others’ impressions of us.  And in the case of authors (or others who have a public persona that is effectively a business) those choices shape others’ impressions of our brand.

The more conscious you become of these decisions and the more you pay attention to what you’re putting out in the world, the more you control your brand.  Every blog post or comment, every Facebook status update, and every tweet tells others what’s important to us and how we think.

This concept was high in my thoughts recently as I prepared my guest post for Rachel.  I’m a very private person, so I don’t give details about my family or day job online.  But as an author, I’m expected to be a “public” person.  How can I balance those aspects?

When Rachel asked to interview me for her blog, my first reaction was “why me?”  After all, I’m not yet published.  I don’t even have an agent.  My second reaction was “what the heck am I going to say?”  It ended up being good practice for how to be (hopefully) interesting while still keeping things in line with my comfort factor.  You’ll be the judge of how well I did.

Now you can go check out my interview over at Rachel Firasek’s blog…but don’t forget to come back to comment here. And come back here on Thursday for Part Two.

Do you consciously pay attention to your online activities and how they might affect your brand?  Do you think you should?  Or is that too much work for you?

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39 Comments below - Time to Add your own.

Jason January 4, 2011 at 6:55 am

Nice piece here, Jami. Especially the part about the different personalities we show everywhere we go.

I thought your day job was Twitter? I’m confused now. 🙂

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Jami Gold January 4, 2011 at 7:15 am

Thanks, Jason!

I know I’m a very analytical person, so I’ve thought about this a lot. I always wonder if that’s a “just me” thing or not. 🙂 Then again, I’ve taken an almost minor’s-worth of psychology classes, so that might have something to do with it too.

LOL! I can understand your confusion, but no – Twitter is not my day job. It just seems that way sometimes.

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Tony Noland January 4, 2011 at 7:35 am

I like your approach here. Some folks put every aspect of themselves out there. What results is a more muddled picture than they intend.

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Jami Gold January 4, 2011 at 7:54 am

Hi Tony,

Thanks for your comment! Yes, it’s a scary thought given how much I’m on Twitter, but for every tweet there, I don’t tweet plenty of other things (for privacy or branding concerns). 🙂

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CMStewart January 4, 2011 at 7:52 am

Looks like you are well on your way to developing your author brand- congratulations!

Enjoyed reading the interview, hope to read more of them. 🙂

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Jami Gold January 4, 2011 at 7:59 am

CM,

Yikes, you mean I’ve got to do more of these? Thanks… *grumble* LOL!

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Murphy January 4, 2011 at 9:05 am

Wow Jami! Great interview! Yikes! I just posted a new blog on my site that deals with sex, death and embarrassment…uh oh, I better start paying attention to my brand. 😉

Murphy

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Jami Gold January 4, 2011 at 9:24 am

Murphy,

You, my friend, are a treasure of hilarity. That is a legitimate part of your brand. 🙂

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Roni Loren January 4, 2011 at 10:40 am

Thanks for the shout out! : )

I agree that we all have multiple facets, but I also think it’s not necessary to only show the “writer” side to the world as an author. People want to know we’re human and relatable. Yes, be professional by being respectful and not insulting others’ books or bashing the industry, etc. But I don’t think that means only being “the writer” online in the way you would have to be “the lawyer” or “the teacher” or whatever at your day job. It’ll come across as one-dimensional.

I like to hear authors tweet about their lives and every day things like parenting or marriage, whatever–bonus if they are funny about it. I think there are ways to protect privacy by not saying family members’ names and such (I’m a private person too) while still being well-rounded and relatable to others. JMHO : )

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Jami Gold January 4, 2011 at 10:53 am

Hi Roni,

Yep, I agree. I’ve never said that we should only reveal our writer-side. Anyone who reads my blog knows that I’ve talked about my geekiness (Dungeons & Dragons), my perfectionism, my lessons from my childhood (after finding my Christmas present early), etc. On Twitter, I talk about my klutziness, my chocolate affection, how I’m a dork, etc.

My point is that if we’re conscious about what we say (especially online), we realize that all that “real life” stuff shapes our brand as well. And when we’re aware of it, we can make sure we’re saying what we really mean to say. I’ll go more into this in Part Two, so stay tuned. 🙂

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Todd Moody January 4, 2011 at 4:16 pm

Great interview Jami! You have a very friendly demeanor online and that makes for good branding!

I have always been conscious of my online presence and what I put out there. Always careful, even in emails, not to say anything that might come back to haunt me later, but I’ve been online since around 1988 and have learned from others bad experiences. Trying to teach my children to be careful and understanding the pitfalls of too much openness or just plain poor judgement has also helped educate me. great topic!

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Jami Gold January 4, 2011 at 4:21 pm

Thanks Todd!

Yes, and that “just being conscious” is a big part of forming a brand. This doesn’t have to limit you in any way. We can still share whatever stories/truths/confessions we want. This is more a matter of recognizing the fact that what we say does affect how others perceive us and consciously making the choice of whether to proceed with the sharing.

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A.J. Zaethe January 4, 2011 at 4:45 pm

Your interview was fun and interesting. And you remind me of…well…me! When it comes to what inspires. I feel that same way, that hopefully, what I write will touch someone and that energy will flow into another from what they have experienced in my novel. Nice to know there are others.

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Jami Gold January 4, 2011 at 5:27 pm

Hi A.J.,

Welcome! Thanks and yes, it’s nice to know others who share our brand of craziness. 🙂

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Suzanne Johnson January 5, 2011 at 7:10 am

So true, Jami! It’s a hard decision, how much of that personal “mask” to let down, especially online. And now I’m off to read your interview!

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Jami Gold January 5, 2011 at 7:50 am

Hi Suzanne,

Yep, or if you look at each facet of ourselves as a different mask, then you have the question – which masks do you give people a peek behind? Thanks for the comment!

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Kay Whitby January 5, 2011 at 10:55 am

Definitely. My biggest concern when it comes to building an online identity, both as an individual and a potential freelancer, is safety. As a single woman in a city with a decent(ly high) crime rate, I am not in any hurry to tell strangers my living situation, real name, general activities, or even my city itself — or at least not concurrently. Things are made even more complicated because I have a very unique name and am thus easy to find in a phone book. So what do I do? Do I offer my real name but not my location? But I want to help spread local events and be a part of my city’s online community. Okay, so I use a pen name. But wait, suddenly there’s legal and financial complications when it comes to payments, and a lot of the time people looking to do business just won’t trust someone who won’t give them their real name. (I’m pretty sure this is the point where an agent becomes absolutely necessary. Except I can’t afford one… so maybe I shouldn’t reveal my location after all. Ad nauseum.)

An additional problem is that, with the way a lot of social media is structured these days, you have to lie excessively just to create an account that won’t potentially clue strangers in to where you live and/or what you do. And if you build up enough lies, it can be difficult to keep track of them all — especially if new accounts get connected to old accounts where you might not have been so careful with your information. Suddenly you’re scrambling to remember if you ever mentioned that you live down the street from that one café in town, or if your best friend ever called you by your real name in the comments, or whether your blogging style is recognizable as the blog you kept in high school, or whether your mom’s family members are public on Facebook and so anyone who finds her will know you’re her kid (and oh, look — Mom used her real name and photo. And Dad! And Grandma and Aunt Rosy and…).

It can get downright dangerous. Facebook’s default settings allow friends to publicly check you into locations with their iPhones, so all of the sudden your drinking buddy is mentioning that you’re out all night at the bar, someone shady sees it (maybe even a shady personal acquaintance sees it), and is waiting for you when you come home. Or doesn’t even wait for you to come home — you get a lot of stories of home break-ins that occur because people let the internet know who they were and then tweeted that they were away for a few days visiting family or on vacation.

Of course, those are all worries that anybody on social media has to be careful of (or should be careful of). The main problem is that people who aren’t trying to get work or promote a book online don’t have to reveal their real name or credentials or work history, while those who are, do. And the more followers you gather, the worse it can get — I know at least one (amazing) web comic artist who threatened to withdraw from the internet altogether because some online followers were very determinedly trying to figure out details about her personal life.

It can be pretty scary, especially to anyone with an extensive internet history. I think I’ve finally started to sort out how I’m going to handle things in my case, but it definitely isn’t going to be easy — it might possibly take months to get all of my accounts in order and under the right privacy locks. Not a task I’m looking forward to.

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Jami Gold January 5, 2011 at 11:03 am

Hi Kay,

All great points! I’ll be doing a post at some future point in time about pen names – and a lot of what you mention here will play in to that. I keep my Facebook account as professional/writing stuff only for exactly that reason you mention. Setting boundaries can be healthy. 🙂

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Kay Whitby January 5, 2011 at 12:31 pm

Yup.

And then there’s what Chuck was saying on his earlier post: if you’re an asshole, sometimes it’s better just not to be out there at all. 😉

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Jami Gold January 5, 2011 at 2:18 pm

Kay,

Yep. LOL! Unfortunately, most of them don’t think they are.

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Kay Whitby January 5, 2011 at 2:20 pm

Maybe that should be the next blog entry making the rounds. “How to Tell If You’re An Asshole Author”.

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Susan Bischoff January 5, 2011 at 11:30 am

I guess I have some keywords in my head of how I’d like people to think of me. They’re me, they’re honest, some come very naturally (and are actually weaknesses but they’re real things with which I struggle), and some are things I consciously strive to do or be. Because they’re part of who I am all the time, I guess I don’t often think: Ok, need to write a post to promote branding keyword aspect A.

When I do think about them, it’s more often in situations where I’m concerned about being Author Behaving Badly and have to ask myself: is leaving this comment or getting involved in this discussion something that fits in with the me I want to be? Is this something I want to be known for? Are these other commenters people I want to notice me and follow me home?

And any blog post of mine that I think may be too ranty, whiny, or self-disclosing, I send to my crit partner before I post it.

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Jami Gold January 5, 2011 at 2:17 pm

Hi Susan,

I should come up with some keywords I want people to associate with me (that’s one of Kristen Lamb’s exercises, I believe), but…*whisper*…I haven’t consciously done it yet. 🙂 I’m hoping my subconscious knows what the heck it’s doing. In other words, like you said, because they’re part of who I am all the time, I’m hoping they just come out of being me. The conscious part comes in more like you mentioned, when you ask yourself if you’re stepping over some line that will spin people’s impression of you in a direction you don’t want. Great points!

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Tahlia Newland January 5, 2011 at 3:56 pm

I identify with this totally. I’m always concerned that if I go too far into my spiritual/philosophical ideas that I might turn off some people, but at the same time, my investigation into these areas is a large part of who I am. If I don’t share it am I not sharing something that others may find interesting? If I do share it, will some who will actually really enjoy Lethal Inheritance get turned off before they try?

That’s my dilema. Any suggestions anyone?

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Jami Gold January 5, 2011 at 4:00 pm

Hi Tahlia,

That’s a good question. We’ve heard about being careful with politics and religion because they can be so divisive, but what if that’s a huge part of who you are? If they’re such a part of your world-view that it will come through in your writing, would it be less of an issue? Then again, if you weren’t passionate about something, you’d be less likely to want to blog or tweet about it either.

Sorry, I have no answers. 🙂 But maybe that will give you something to think about.

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CMStewart January 5, 2011 at 5:56 pm

I have very strong opinions about certain political issues and about organized religion, and those opinions absolutely help shape my fiction. My advice (as an aspiring novelist) is don’t worry about going too far. Don’t preach or over-explain, just simply write from your core. Everybody has an audience waiting . .

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Jami Gold January 5, 2011 at 5:58 pm

Hi CM,

I like that: “Everybody has an audience waiting.” Thanks! 🙂

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Tahlia Newland January 7, 2011 at 7:08 pm

Thanks for your persepctive CM. Yuk, I hate preaching. For me there’s nothing to preach about anyway, my novel reflects my world view but it’s not religious. There’s not a religious word in it.

My mother is a Christian – I’m not – and she and her friends are very quick to jump on anything that they consider goes against the church. I guess I don’t want people like that to get the wrong idea, but hell, did Harry Potter suffer because masses of Christians refused to let their kids read it?

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Violetta July 7, 2013 at 1:52 am

This is going to be hard for me to internalize, no matter how much I wish my vanity-published ebook(s) would sell: I have social anxiety and no appropriateness filters. Or to be more precise, I have social anxiety BECAUSE I have no appropriateness filters. I had to delete my Facebook and Twitter accounts as an artificial filter, and I very rarely post on forums or blogs. I even more rarely stick around to witness the fallout afterward. I wrote out a couple of text walls on this very site before realizing no one wanted to know my life story and cancelling the comments.

Am I completely screwed?

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Jami Gold July 7, 2013 at 12:34 pm

Hi Violetta,

I understand–and no, you’re not completely screwed. 🙂

The fact that you decided against posting your original thoughts for comments shows that you do have an appropriateness filter, and it just might take more conscious thought on your part to implement.

We all have behaviors that come naturally to us and others that don’t. Naturally, I’m oblivious. 🙂 That leads to everything from stubbed toes to not being as thoughtful as I should (because I don’t even notice the issue). I’ve been working hard to improve that trait. After all, I need to be more observant to write about life. LOL!

In a case like yours, you have two choices. If you–internal to yourself and beyond your desire for writing or selling–want to develop this filter more and “grow out of” the social anxiety it causes, you could start out interacting only on forums where you usually take more time to think through your answer. Yes, that might mean that Twitter is out of the picture for a while. You could then try training yourself to stop and ask yourself the “Is it true? Is it kind? Is it necessary?” questions before clicking “post.” Over time, when that habit becomes ingrained, you can expand to other forums like Facebook and then eventually to Twitter.

The other option, if you like yourself just fine the way you are, is to embrace your personality. I know of some authors who are inappropriate on Twitter all the time. 🙂 That is part of their brand. Whether or not this approach would work for your writing brand might depend on the genre you write in. Some erotica or romance authors tweet risque things. Some who write religious stories (Christian, pagan, you name it) include those messages in their tweets. Some let their grumpy selves be grumpy because they don’t care if people don’t like them.

In other words, everyone’s going to have a different perspective on what is or isn’t appropriate. You have to decide how you want others to see you, and then you can let those aspects shine. You only need to change yourself if you think you would benefit from the change overall. Does that make sense?

I hope that helps! 🙂 Thanks for the comment!

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